This week we welcome Senior Assistant Director of Admission Katie Mattli to the blog. Welcome back, Katie!
As I was falling asleep last night, my head was buzzing with the conundrum of painting a picture of our campus for students in this new climate. How do I make connections? How do I share a story without the campus backdrop that tells so much without words? How do I help them see us?
Then in the dark, staring at the ceiling, I remembered: we ask students to do this every year. Every time they begin a college application, they are essentially trying to make colleges see them through their only medium: words. At my fingertips I have social platforms, pictures, phones, websites, webinars… a whole slew of tools beyond the written word to paint the campus story for prospective and admitted students. If I only had words, I would have to intentionally craft a careful and thoughtful message.
So, this blog is filled with application tips and thoughts, dedicated to all those soon-to-be seniors who will only be using words to be seen in the admission process.
For those anxious about how to start a college application, I see you.
This summer or fall you will sit down at your computer and write your college application. I hope not all in one sitting (you can save it and review it later!). During information sessions, I ask students to imagine a scenario with me: Pretend you could have a cup of coffee with me. If we spent 30 minutes together, what would you tell me? Lots of things, right? You would tell me about what you love in high school, how things are crazy right now, how and why you chose classes and clubs and sports teams and service projects. About who changed your life and why. What’s good, what’s bad, what matters to you.
Through a college application you are speaking to me too–just on paper and not in person. So, here’s the tip! Pretend we did have a “coffee conversation.” Grab a piece of paper and write all the things you would want me to know, and what you would talk about if we were in a coffee shop chatting. Just make a bulleted list. Now take that piece of paper with you to the computer when you pull up your college application and start marking things off your list. This is a great exercise to whisk some of the stress away and just get started.
When what you need to say just doesn’t fit in a category, I see you.
You had to make a choice in your senior year schedule because 2 AP’s were offered at the same time. You changed schools after 10th grade because one of your parents had a job change. You had a blip in your grades, and you want to tell me about it. In March of your junior year… things got a little surreal.
I see you. And I carefully read the “Additional Information” section of your application. This small, unassuming section is a blank text box on your application. You can share any little detail that you feel is relevant or helps put your high school career in context. You can write a paragraph or leave bullet points. The format is optional so list what makes sense to you.
There is also a separate response space to tell us about a high school change. It is not required but it is really helpful for admission counselors to hear more about what caused the decision to change schools. It may be personal, and that’s okay if you don’t want to share. But if you feel comfortable, add a few sentences to let someone reviewing your application understand the change.
For those who don’t think they can “stand out,” I see you.
A few years ago, I read an application from a student who loved Chemistry and was captain of her swim team. Neither of these attributes are unique in a sizeable applicant pool. But her application was so memorable. She broke water down to its elements in her essay and spoke about how it flowed through her life, in her love of chemistry, of her leadership on the swim team, and through a water-centered philanthropy that really mattered to her. It was great! She stood out!
Without knowing it, she followed two rules that I encourage all students to consider before turning in their application:
- Does it answer why?
- Does it pass the Anonymous Application test?
(Neither of these are actual rules, but I still tell anyone who will listen that they should be.)
First, does it answer why? So many students want to know what they should list on their application to be competitive. I tell them they should instead ask why are they involved in a certain activity, why does it matter to them? If you can articulate this, you can probably put together a strong application—one that is authentic and genuinely has a good foundation.
Now, the anonymous application test. If you were to print your application (you don’t do this, but follow me here) and you were to drop it in your high school hallway—without your name on it—could anyone read it and return it to just you? That is a strong application. That is an application that has your unique voice that a friend, teacher, or peer would recognize. Just like your thumbprint, you are unique. No application is exactly like another. You can stand out by simply being authentic.
Things I don’t see
Since we are in this theme, I think it is important to mention the things that I don’t see.
- I don’t see the number of hours you put into a sport or activity unless you tell me. Be sure to take a calculated guess as to the time you spend on your activities.
- That small typo. I’m not here to red-pen you. (My colleague says it best, so check out her blog next.
- The 50-point difference in test scores. I don’t care that your best friend or the guy in your math class got a perfect score. I don’t admit test scores, I admit people. In a holistic process we see test scores, but we see so much more. Don’t distill yourself to one number. I don’t and neither should you.
Lastly, for those who feel their world is upside down right now, I see you.
If your spring sport just got cancelled, if your spring break vacation was spent watching Netflix at home, if your ACT or SAT just got cancelled and you don’t know when you will take it again, if you are now taking virtual classes—with your parents sitting beside you at the kitchen table also working: I see you.
Moments like this make us feel insecure, anxious. They make us feel alone, unseen. But I will tell you a secret: high schoolers are the most resilient creatures on Earth! I mean it. I have seen students rise from situational ashes that would bring most adults crashing down. I have proof. I read your words year after year. You bounce back. You make plans. You attack problems with passion. Your words bring me joy because there are moments in the committee room when I say out loud, “Y’all. This student is going to change the world.”
You don’t have to change the world to be resilient. Being resilient changes the world. So, take heart in these unprecedented times. Colleges and institutions everywhere send you love and support and we can’t wait to “see” you in your application next year!
- The College Search and COVID-19 recorded webinar
- Locking Down The College Search In A Global Pandemic
- Coping in the time of Corona
- Coronavirus—What’s Next for Admissions and Higher Ed
Katie Mattli has worked in college admission for over 10 years. She joined Georgia Tech in 2014 where she works with underrepresented minority recruitment focusing on female, first generation, African American and Hispanic recruitment efforts. Her previous years at a private liberal arts college for women fueled her love of student leadership and advocacy.